Basic Photography Skills To Help You Tell A Story

By Kaylin R. Staten

Storytelling through photography has always been in my blood. Photography means, “writing with light,” and everyone knows I love the written word. Why not add a visual component? When I was a child, I would use my mom’s 35mm film point-and-shoot camera and my dad’s instant Polaroid camera to take photos of family members, still-life shots of my toys and, of course, clouds.

My love of photography reached new parallels when I took a photography class as a sophomore in high school; however, it wasn’t a “new-age” digital photography class. (This was 2003, after all.)

I developed my own film and black-and-white prints from the comfort of our classroom’s very own darkroom. I knew how to get the right amount of chemicals in my stop bath, where to hang my drying negatives and the which filter to use to develop my own perfect version of a black-and-white print. (I also know what it’s like to get photography chemicals on your favorite white and blue Nike Cortez tennis shoes.)

The skills I learned in that first photography class remain with me 15 years later. Here are some photography basics I learned:

Get to know your camera.

My first “real” camera was a Canon EOS Rebel GII 35mm Film SLR. It had all of the perks of a pre-digital camera, from the hot shoe on top to the screw and bayonet mounts on the bottom. Of course, one cannot forget the channel for the film canister. The first rule of thumb I was ever taught was to learn about your camera. Cameras have many of the same features, but get to know your own camera like the back of your hand. Know how to adjust the size of your aperture (F-stop), your manual (and automatic) focusing ring on your lens and your ISO settings (the speed level of light reaching the prism in your lens; the larger the number, the more light will be let in, resulting in a brighter photograph).

I purchased my first Nikon DSLR (a D5000) with college graduation money, and last year, I upgraded to the D7500. I’m a Nikon fan, but the most important thing is for you to get a camera you know and love because you’ll use it often! Also, naming your camera helps to form a bond. My fleet consists of Picard and Riker.


Just like any other form of art, composition makes or breaks a photograph. When you look through a viewfinder or view a subject on your camera’s screen, ask yourself, “Would this make for an interesting photograph? Does it capture the subject and tell a story?” Photographers live for the Rule of Thirds, and in some cases, they break the rules for a more compelling photograph. Whether you use or break the rules, it’s important to know the Rule of Thirds in the first place!

The Rule of Thirds divides your shot into nine quadrants, and the points of focus should be within the frame like this:

The Rule of Thirds allows you to think about the focus of your photo while also establishing the background, foreground and other artistic elements.


One of your largest objectives when you take a good photo is to have contrast, which is the brightness range between highlights and shadows within a photo. Contrast can be manipulated with surroundings’ lighting. If you’re shooting outdoors, the best time of day to take photos is early morning and late afternoon because sunlight is less intense. If you have to take photos in the harsh midday sun, you can use reflectors or place your subject underneath shade to give a more balanced contrast. You can also use your camera’s flash to compensate for the harsh lighting and give balance to your photograph.

Inside lighting can also be tricky, and often, you will find yourself in less-than-pleasant lighting situations, such as fluorescent and orange lighting. You can adjust your f-stop and ISO to 1000 or above. To minimize blurring, you can use a tripod or place your camera on a still surface. Lighting is also your best friend, so if you have access to lighting (perhaps in a studio environment), then use that to your advantage! Often, lighting can be adjusted in post-production. It’s easier to make a light photo dark than it is to make a dark photo light because it becomes grainy and less sharp.


Lastly, we take photos because we find a subject interesting. This can be a food shot for an Instagram post, a portrait of a friend or a beautiful piece of architecture. Typically, I can find beauty and inspiration in anything, and I take photos every day, whether I use my iPhone or my Nikon. Make a fluid list of subjects you would like to focus on and work to perfect your craft. My favorite subjects are animals, children, portraits of individuals, architecture, the sky, reflections, cityscapes, flowers, and light blurs. You can adapt your skillset to any type of photography as well.

Your technique can vary once you have your subject. You can use a silhouette, abstract viewpoints, close-ups, double exposure (I love these!), panning, changes in horizon, shooting through a frame/filter and more. Experiment with different viewpoints and choose your favorites in post-production. The key element is to see if your photo tells a story. What type of reaction does it invoke? Nostalgia? Happiness? Sadness? Interested? Bored? Amazed? Offended?

These tips, as well as countless others, can prepare you to take beautiful, artistic photographs that tell a story. I use these every day, and honestly, they’re part of my subconscious at this point. I still LOVE film photography. Check out how Kodak keeps film alive.


Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart  of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin  on LinkedIn.